Brent Gatzemeier's family has forgiven the elderly man who killed the Millcreek boy in a hit-and-run accident, asking a judge for leniency at his Monday sentencing.
"Even though we have been devastated by this tragic accident, we feel sorry for Mr. Kutchera," Brent's father, Duane, said. "He made a mistake, one that he will have to live with for the rest of his life."
About 2 p.m. May 30, Alfred William Kutchera's vehicle struck Flora Gatzemeier and her children, 3-year-old Rebecca and 9-year-old Brent, as they waited near a bus stop at 1250 E. 4500 South. Kutchera did not stop at the scene of the accident, later telling police he thought he had hit a mailbox.
Brent Gatzemeier died of his injuries. His mother was taken to University Hospital with two broken shoulders, a broken lower right leg and bruises and lacerations. Rebecca Gatzemeier was taken to Primary Children's Medical Center with a broken leg and two broken shoulder blades. Both were airlifted.
Flora Gatzemeier was in a wheelchair Monday, and family members said it is unclear whether she will ever walk again. She lost 9 inches of bone in her right leg and has undergone numerous bone-graft surgeries.
Kutchera, 81, has expressed sorrow for the accident, calling it the "most tragic day of my life." He pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor, in August.
Third District Judge Judith Atherton could have ordered Kutchera to serve one year in jail and pay $2,500 in fines but instead sentenced him to six months home confinement, followed by 36 months of court-supervised probation. Atherton did not impose additional fines. The Gatzemeiers have filed a civil suit against Kutchera, and any settlement that may come out of that case is enough, she said.
"The victims have been very forgiving of Mr. Kutchera's conduct in this case and very empathetic," Atherton said. "But that does not mitigate the extreme pain the family has felt with the loss of this little boy."
Kutchera, a former New York firefighter and World War II veteran, dedicated his career to saving lives, Atherton said. "Except for this incident, his life has been one of public service."
Duane Gatzemeier hopes his son's death was not in vain and that government officials will make a "greater effort to identify drivers who are not safe and take greater effort to keep them off our roads. We also hope that others will learn from this tragedy and not operate a motor vehicle if they cannot do so safely."
The father said he has found comfort in forgiveness and in the belief he will one day be reunited with his young son.
"I'm not mad, I'm not angry," Duane Gatzemeier said. "Most people would be, but I'm not. I believe I'll see my son again after I die."